And just like that, Google is selling smartphones again. Andy Rubin, Google’s SVP of Mobile and Digital Content, just officially pulled back the curtains on a new section in the Google Play Store where Google will offer hardware directly to customers. The first device to go on sale is the unlocked GSM version of Samsung’s venerable Galaxy Nexus, which will sell for $399 but only in the U.S. (for now, anyway).
Google has been down this path before when they began selling the unlocked, unsubsidized Nexus One back in 2010. The plan, as you may already know, didn’t work out so well. When it came time to launch the Nexus S, Google and Samsung decided to take a more traditional approach to handset sales by offering it exclusively at Best Buy stores across the country.
For what it’s worth, Google seems to have learned from the missteps made back when the Nexus One was the Android handset to beat — with Google, HTC, and T-Mobile fingerprints all over the original Nexus, the question for some customers was about who they should turn to for support. Rubin notes that the company has “implemented new customer support services to improve the purchasing experience on Google Play,” but by selling a device with an unlocked pentaband GSM radio, users will have to deal directly with carriers for service and provisioning.
With a new section in the Google Play Store meant specifically for hardware now open, it’s hard not to think of recent rumors that Google will soon be offering a slew of co-branded tablets directly to consumers. It seems unlikely to me that Google would carve out a space in the Google Play Store if their intentions were to simply sell an unlocked Galaxy Nexus and nothing more — after all, it’s called the Devices section.
Google representatives were understandably tight-lipped about what sort of hardware would eventually find its way to the Devices section, though it’s easy to see how tablets would be a good fit. While the Galaxy Nexus is a great device (my Verizon unit accompanies me everywhere), phones only represent one aspect of the Google/Android ecosystem.
Tablets, after all, provide a distinctly different user experience and their bigger screens would lend themselves well to some of the content types Google offers in the Google Play store. I can’t imagine that Google wouldn’t want to offer a tablet or two to capitalize on the strength of their media environment down the road, but for now we’ll just have to make do with a wonderful Android handset.